PERRY, Ill. — For Lane Wiese, a commissioner of the Valley
City drainage district in rural Pike County, the sight of the Illinois River
lapping at the top of the Valley City levee was personal.
“My wife and I have a tremendous amount at risk down here,”
said Wiese as volunteers filled sandbags for the fourth day and the Illinois
River continued to rise.
“We have about 1,500 acres of productive farmland we would
lose. We have one home and a little over 200,000 bushels of grain storage,” he
While most of those whose homes were threatened by the
rising waters of the Illinois River packed up and left as the river moved within
striking distance of the top of the levee, at least one resident stayed put.
That was Wiese’s son, Nathan, 23, who lives in the home that
his parents bought and lived in for 22 years. Nathan, his dad said, decided to
stay in his house with his dog and two cats.
“A true muskrat never leaves his den,” Wiese joked about his
son’s decision to remain.
But while the river overtopping the levee would mean a
property loss for him and his family, Wiese pointed out that for the residents
of nearby communities who rely on wells for their drinking water, the
consequences of losing the flood fight could be more lasting.
“If that levee would overtop, the city of Griggsville could
lose its water supply,” he said.
Wiese was on the scene again on April 25, just a day after
having emergency surgery on his arm, to help supervise the installation of two
repaired pumps in the drainage district’s pumphouse.
As volunteers worked to get the two pumps up and running to
move water from overflowing drainage ditches into the river, other volunteers
continued the massive effort to fill and place sandbags to reinforce and raise
sections of the Valley City levee.
“No levee is perfectly level, but the water is always level.
There’s always going to be a low spot somewhere, so we have to build that up to
above the water level,” Wiese said.
The Valley City levee is about eight miles long. Work to
reinforce the levee against the rising Illinois River started as river levels
and rain forecasts began to add up.
As the river rose over the weekend of April 20-21, Wiese
said drainage district officials monitored reports.
“We started Monday. We went from the Corps of Engineers
forecast. When the river level got to within four feet of our levee, we
patiently observed. When it got to within three feet, then we put out the phone
calls and went to radio and TV, requesting volunteers to fill sandbags. That’s
when the process started, when we knew the crest was going to be within three
feet of the top of the levee,” he said.
For Richard Myers, chairman of the Valley City drainage
district, the thought that the river would overtop the levee and spill into
homes and onto farmland became a real possibility.
“It was coming up about two feet a day, and then they
started giving the forecast of where it was going to go to. At one time, I
thought we cannot possibly make it because it was going to go higher than it had
ever been,” he said.
The job to reinforce the levee is a time-consuming task and
a dangerous one.
Sand, dredged earlier from the very river now in flood, is
brought in by truckloads. Volunteers then begin filling sandbags, while others
start on the task of building up the levee in various low spots.
“We laid close to three-quarters of a mile of sandbags in a
4-3-2-1 pattern, a pyramid. We lay plastic down first on top of the levee. We’ll
have two sandbags on the edge of the plastic and two sandbags on the grass part
of the levee. What that does is seal the plastic to the grass with the two bags
on it,” Wiese said.
“The other two bags reinforce that to keep it from sliding.
Then you build up your pyramid and you wrap the plastic on the river side up and
over and seal it to the land side, so you’ve got a sealed wall against the
Earlier in the week, cold temperatures and a day of steady
rain combined to make a dangerous job — volunteers work within steps of a
fast-moving river that is flooded to depths of 12 to 14 feet — even more
“On Tuesday, it rained all day. We gathered at the meeting
spot to go over our game plan of what we wanted to do for that day. I told the
volunteers it was totally up to them, I would really appreciate if they would
go, but I was not going to tell them to go out there in that type of weather.
Every one of them went back out,” Wiese said.
Myers said the consequences of the levee overtopping would
be far-reaching and costly.
“It would take some homes, and the floodwaters usually
destroy any buildings or grain bins. Then you have debris, you can get a lot of
sand deposited, your drainage ditches fill up and you have quite a cleanup
process. There are a lot of reasons why you try as hard as you can not to let
that happen,” Myers said.
The call for volunteers extended beyond the Valley City
drainage district to the drainage districts up and down the Illinois River.
At its height, the volunteer effort in the Valley City
drainage district consisted of close to 200 people a day.
“We’ve been feeding between 170 and 220 people a day,” Wiese
said. “It’s all volunteer help, and I cannot compliment our volunteers enough.”
Volunteers came from local farms, local communities and
agribusiness and included inmates at the Illinois Department of Corrections work
camps at Pittsfield and Clayton.
“We were very fortunate to have the people from the work
camps. They were really good workers,” Myers said. “If we didn’t have them, I
don’t think we would have had enough help to fill the sandbags.”
Local agribusinesses stepped up to lend paid manpower,
vehicles and trailers to help with the sandbagging effort.
“All of the agribusinesses in this area sent people. It’s
naturally a large agricultural area, so all of our ag suppliers are down here.
Two Rivers FS brought people down. They’re paying their people to be down here.
Logan AgriService in Griggsville, a large ag supplier, he had people down here
on his payroll. Bader Agricultural Service from Meredosia has had people down
here. Country Companies Insurance has had people down here,” Wiese said, listing
some of the businesses who assisted.
“We just can’t say enough about everyone who has helped. I
just can’t thank these volunteers enough for all that they’ve done.”
The Illinois River crested at Valley City on April 27 at
With the sandbagging finished, Wiese said officials would be
patrolling the levee to check for any leaks, seepage or boils, holes in the
ground where water can bubble up, sometimes bringing levee material with it and
thus threatening the integrity of the levee.
“We will keep patrolling the levee looking for boils and
seeps. We’ve got to keep an eye on those,” Wiese said.
Myers expressed cautious optimism that the sandbagging
efforts would keep the river back.
“We had a lot of good help and got a lot of sandbags on, so
we feel good about it now if something funny doesn’t happen,” he said. “We think
we can hold it back if we don’t get any more heavy rains.”
Wiese said officials in drainage districts up and down the
Illinois River will be keeping a close eye on both the river and levees as river
“They’re only looking at a fall of approximately two-tenths
to three-tenths per day for the next few days, so we’re going to be looking at a
week to 10 days of high water yet,” he said.